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Imagine That! - Archaic Head Lice

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! - Archaic Head Lice

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

The next museum display you see could include dinosaur bones, homo erectus, and...head lice? They're gross, but they tell us a lot.

Imagine That!

Scientists studying the pre-historic human head louse found that two genetically different strains of lice each infected a different species of, homo erectus -- now extinct ...the other, homo sapiens -- us!

Big fat hairy deal, right? But because both types of lice are found on humans living today, it seems the two human species at some point must have come face to face...and traded lice! That's surprising, since it was thought homo erectus went extinct l-o-n-g before homo sapiens ever walked the earth.

Reed: "What we found in this case was that we've been evolving with these parasitic lice for about twenty-five million years. And what that tells us is we can use these parasites to study the evolutionary history of primates, and more specifically, humans."

That's David Reed, head of the project at the University of Florida. He says researchers are now looking at other parasites like tapeworms and bedbugs to tell us even more about our ancestors and just who came in contact with whom. Don't get bugged down in the data, but that's big stuff. I'm Eric Phillips.

"ImagineThat!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

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